Your own creativity and talents will only get you so far; you also need contacts.
One of the best ways to gain contacts is through active networking, but this can be time consuming. In a space of a several hours, you may only meet a few people — and only a minority of them will ever develop into valuable, long-term contacts. A modern solution is speed networking. It’s structured, it’s fast, and it allows you to gain a large number of contacts in a short amount of time.
In this speed networking how-to, we’ll look at how you can utilize the practice to your full advantage.
What Is Speed Networking?
First, it’s necessary to understand what we mean by speed networking. Bear in mind that you can do speed networking in person and online.
The concept is much the same as speed dating: you pair up with someone you’ve never met before for a set amount of time, typically anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. At an in-person event, the sound of a bell or buzzer signals when it’s time to move on to the next partner, whereas at a virtual event, the host will bring you back to the main meeting. This continues for around an hour. Depending on how many people attend, you may have the chance to speak to almost everyone or just a portion of the group.
Typically, a speed networking event ends with the chance to mingle more naturally. You can use this opportunity to continue talking with someone (perhaps to discuss an opportunity in depth or to schedule a meeting at a later date) or to talk with people you were unable to meet as part of the speed part of the networking.
The main way speed networking differs from speed dating is that the aim is to make as many valuable connections as possible. Another difference is that you can share as much contact information as you like while talking to someone. It’s particularly common to exchange business cards and share printed information or a PDF about your company.
Benefits of Speed Networking
Why would you want to use speed networking? Whereas more traditional types of networking are still crucial, speed networking can bring some distinct advantages, which mean it has an important role to play.
Cut Out the Small Talk
Like them or hate them, pleasantries are a necessity of most everyday situations. With speed networking, you have no time for small talk: you need to get straight to the point. This is helpful in figuring out quickly whether the person has something valuable to offer.
In addition, you eliminate the small talk at the end of the encounter — that often uncomfortable moment when you need to end the chat, but you’re unsure how to do so. This is especially useful when you realize the person is unlikely to be a useful contact. With speed networking, the time running out ends the conversation for you. This means there’s nothing impolite about ending abruptly.
No Chance to Feel Self-Conscious
When you’re starting out at your business, it’s common to feel less experienced than everyone else. In fact, even people who have been in business for several years can feel self-conscious. Speed networking gives you such a limited amount of time to speak your spiel, there’s no chance to overthink or be shy. It’s a great equalizer: everyone has the same amount of time to talk, meaning you hear from people who may keep quiet at more traditional events.
Develop Meaningful Connections
Much of networking today involves adding people who you only meet briefly to a contact list or on LinkedIn. It’s easy to forget about them entirely and never pursue a relationship further than this. The intensity of speed networking makes it much more likely that you’ll remember people. Plus, since you’re actively looking for connections, you’ll think about why you want to stay in touch with people before you take their contact information.
Speed Networking Best Practices
Done right, you can use speed networking to gain many great contacts in a short amount of time. To achieve this, you need a strategy. You’ll also need to make sure you’re attending the right events to meet the kinds of professionals who will be beneficial to your business or career. These speed networking best practices will ensure you do both.
Preparing What to Say
Find out in advance how long you’ll have to speak with each person and prepare an elevator speech. No more than one minute should be sufficient, and you’ll need to make it shorter than this if each encounter is less than two minutes. In your elevator speech, quickly summarize what you do and where you hope to head in the future.
Practice in advance to ensure you won’t forget any key information and to make sure you don’t talk for too long. You need to leave enough time for the other person to speak and to have a short dialog.
Speed Networking Questions to Ask
In fact, knowing what to ask others is just as important as introducing yourself. Remember that some people may arrive less prepared than you. Having some questions ready will keep the conversation flowing and ensure you find out plenty information. Some speed networking questions you may like to ask include:
- Why did you decide to come to the event?
- What was your inspiration for starting your company/choosing your career?
- What challenges/opportunities do you anticipate for your industry over the next few years?
- What do you like/dislike most about your job?
Don’t go overboard taking notes when someone is speaking to you — that would be incredibly off-putting. Instead, just jot down any points you want to remember. At an in-person event, you can write down a sentence or two on the person’s business card. If you’re speed networking online, create a document with the participants’ names, company, job title, and a few key details.
How to Find the Right Events
Decide whether an event is worthwhile by deciding your reason for networking. What kinds of people do you want to meet? What sorts of opportunities are you looking for? Consider who the event is aimed at — you may even be able to check the list of attendees.
For in-person events, you need to keep an eye out on social media or search regularly for events in your area. However, you can find opportunities almost every day if you look for virtual events, such as on Eventbrite. Many are free; you just need to decide if they’re worth the investment of your time to avoid overwhelming your schedule with meetings.
Speed Networking Tips for Hosts
If there are no speed networking events coming up in your area and the online ones are unsuitable for your needs, considering organizing your own. The most important thing to do is decide what type of speed networking event you want to run. You have three main options.
1. Round Robin
In round robin speed networking, participants meet each other at random. They talk for a set amount of time and then move on to someone else.
In a physical event, you can set up chairs in two rings — with half the participants on the inner ring and half on the outer ring. When it’s time to change partners, those in the inner ring can move one place to the right, for instance.
At a virtual event, you just need to assign random pairs and send them to private breakout rooms. This is a feature of many types of conferencing software, including Zoom — which allows up to 50 private sessions.
2. Station Based
Another option is to use station-based networking. This is a better option if you want to have a more systemized approach to pairing participants. Before the event, everyone provides you with details about their background and specifies what kinds of professionals they’re looking to meet. You can then figure out who to pair together using this information.
A station-based event is especially easy to do with virtual speed networking. For in-person events, it requires some organization. You’ll need to send participants to a different numbered station for each encounter.
3. Group Based
A final option is to divide participants into small groups of anywhere from four to 10 people. Each person has a minute or so for an introduction (you can time this as well) and then the group has a conversation. The idea is that group-based speed networking stimulates creativity. However, there is a risk that some people will dominate the conversation after the initial introductions are complete.
By using the above tips, you’ll be able to speed network like a pro. You can use events to find opportunities for your business to grow, progress in your career, find potential business partners, or connect with suppliers, vendors, and clients.
If it’s impossible for you to attend an in-person event, you can still gain all the same benefits from an online event. And if you can’t find any that would be useful for you, create one yourself — it’s a great way to give your business even more exposure.
If you’re using speed networking to find potential hires for your business, don’t rely just on that initial connection — always make sure you conduct a proper background check. Read our blog post on background check red flags to avoid making decisions you’ll come to regret.